Ukraine divided over its future: West or East?

The choice for Ukraine is between remaining closely tied to its former master Russia or joining the European Union

Photo credit: snamess

Photo credit: snamess

As many British ministers look for a way out of Europe, the situation in the Ukraine could not be more different. Already part of the Council of Europe, Ukraine has been trying for many years to have closer links with Europe and eventually full membership status of the European Union. Full membership for Ukraine does not look likely in the near future due to concerns over standards in the judicial system and economic problems in Ukraine’s recent history.

It is these economic problems which in recent years have lead Ukraine to turn to its former Soviet master, Russia, for monetary aid in order to solve its financial woes. However it is these relations with Russia that have been the cause of many of the current political issues. Many feel it is now time for Ukraine to sever its ties completely with Russia and look towards a new future within a European frame.

On the other hand, others continue to question the need to be involved in European affairs. Unfortunately, as a former Soviet Republic, massive pressures have been placed on Ukraine by Russia not to join Europe, and it seems for now that this influence is the one that is sticking in the mind of Ukrainian officials.

Recent negotiations between Ukraine and European officials broke down in November when the Ukrainian government decided to sign a deal with Russia to reduce its gas costs rather than advance negotiations with the EU. However, that doesn’t mean that people haven’t taken to the streets in order to protest in favour of ties with the EU often with violent outcomes.

Protests have been slowly rising since the government’s objection to the European bill with protestors having now spent around two months occupying Independence Square in Kiev with no signs that they are likely to give up soon. Protests have now turned from being largely anti-Russian to anti-government with many calling for the removal of President Viktor Yanukovych and the release of former president Yulia Tymoshenko who was imprisoned over charges of corruption.

Violent clashes between protestors and police have continued for weeks with the police failing to remove the large group of protestors. Several high profile victims of the violence have been journalist Tetyana Chornovol and former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko, who has said that Ukrainians simply no longer want to be seen as a colony of Russia. Criticisms of the violence and the ways in which it has been dealt with have been widespread not least from the United States where Senator John McCain has been quoted as saying that further violence in the streets of Kiev could lead to problems in the US – Ukraine relationship.

Against the backdrops of these protests there have been further protests this time however in support of the government and indeed its Russian links. With such divisions in the region that stretch back a long way in Ukraine’s history it seems unlikely that a suitable political situation to the protests will be found soon.

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